Life with an emotionally abusive partner, or a narcissist, is more than difficult to manage. It can sap our energy, and it can be unbelievably frustrating when we try to ‘right’ the heavy situations when our partner either makes his/her side of the story up, or they accuse us of saying or doing something that they have fabricated.
The scenario often looks like this: The narcissist in your life accused you of something you KNOW you did not say or do. You want to defend yourself because 1) the accusation is false, 2) you aren’t crazy, 3) you are not the person the narcissist made you out to be, 3) you feel as if you have been locked into a prison cell with ‘guilty as charged’ stamped on your forehead. The judge and the jury (the narcissist), however, did not give you a fair trial in which you were able to prove your innocence. You have been signed, stamped, and delivered (locked up, and the key has been thrown away). What do you do now?
You want to explain yourself in your own defense (to the narcissist)? I ended my sentence purposely with a question mark. You may want to explain yourself until your innocence is proven, but is that feasible? Typically, not when you are dealing with a narcissist.
Explaining yourself to a narcissist in an attempt to defend your own innocence is usually a futile endeavor. Why is it ineffectual? Because narcissists:
- are wired to be on the defense
- are grandiose in their view of self
- see no wrong in their behaviors
- do not listen
- are determined to make themselves look right
- make you out to be the abuser
- project blame onto you
- manipulate, gaslight, and drum up anxiety and doubt in you (i.e., dismantle your self-confidence and self-esteem)
- intend to be the ‘top dog,’ getting want they want in life, and typically because they feel that they deserve it
Narcissists are invested in their own lies and manipulative and deceptive practices. The profit that they intend to glean from their investment is complete control of you (their victim).
I understand the feeling of whole-heartedly wanting to prove your innocence, or to ensure the story that the narcissist conveys to others does not falsely drag you down into the dirt, so how do you stop the narcissist? How do you defend yourself? You don’t, but you can try several methods (boundary setting and going gray rock) that involve changing yourself to protect your mental well-being.
Boundaries include both mental and physical barriers and dividing lines.
Create a mental boundary that involves awareness. You are aware that the narcissist is trying to manipulate you, and you are fully aware that you cannot change their behavior.
What the narcissist does not realize is that you are aware of their emotional abuse, and in setting this mental boundary, they cannot touch your sanity, your self-esteem, nor your personal beliefs. You own who you are, how you think, your core values, and how you operate your life accordingly. You are calm. You respond ‘to the point,’ but always in a calm manner. You make no attempt to prove your story or innocence.
Is this easy to do? No, it takes practice. It is like weight lifting. You cannot hold a heavy object up in the air for long periods of time until you have built up the muscles to do so. With a narcissist, you must build your mental muscles up in order to cope.
Create a ‘civil treatment’ boundary that may help to deter verbal abuse. It sounds like this…with calm and to-the-point conviction, “When you are ready to discuss this in a civil and reasonable manner, we can return to talking about this.”
Leave out any acknowledgment of the narcissist’s jabbing words or manipulative attempts. Your attempt is to ignore all of that. You are the calm one in this scenario, and you are taking care of yourself!
Some narcissists rely on passive-aggressive behaviors to deal with their own insecurities, and for the same reason, they are critical and suspicious of others. You can face this type of behavior with calm, and set your own pace in life (having the friends and family that YOU deserve and want), and you can remain mentally collected as you do so.
Calm Conversation From the Battleground
Here is an example of a narcissist that frequently criticizes others, procrastinates in an attempt to keep his wife away from her family, and often utters criticism towards his wife’s family, friends, and people in general. His attempt(s) did not work in this example, and my client illustrated herself as calm, cool, collected, and to the point.
Amber’s sister invited her and her husband, Tom, to a Christmas gathering.
After several weeks had passed, Amber decided to no longer quietly wait for Tom’s response to the invitation. She calmly got straight to the point and asked Tom, “Christmas is coming up. Are we going to my sister’s house?” (Amber had mentally prepared so *she didn’t feel as if she were walking on eggshells as she approached Tom.* She was aware that Tom might react in a negative manner regardless of how she approached the subject.)
Tom sneered, “You know how your sister thinks her **** does not stink. I guess you prefer her and her family over me. You want to be just like the Joneses.” (Notice, Tom’s criticism and words that denote his lack of confidence. His words felt like a sting from a whip momentarily to Amber, but Amber turned it around and processed his words as a deep insecurity.)
Amber ignored the cutting words. She did not jab back. “I need to respond to my sister with a yes or a no. Are you going with me?” (That changed the tide. She was going to the family gathering, and this was her way to practice self-care, and to support her family despite her husband’s biting words. Tom could now make the choice to go, or not to go, but it was not his place to stop Amber from going.)
Gray rock is a behavior strategy you can use to appear unresponsive and uninteresting to the narcissist. When you gray rock, you do not feed into the narcissist’s twisted needs. You go neutral. You do not show any feelings (no hurt reaction, no trying to defend yourself, no facial expressions that reflect sadness, anger, or frustration)…nothing.
Respond to the narcissist’s prods with a shrug, utter a “meh,” or a short non-committed response, such as “yes,” “no,” or, “I don’t know.”
Note, the narcissist may use your gray rock attempts against you. I use the word ‘may’ loosely, because, in my experience, they will use it against you. They typically will throw you under the bus as they feel they have lost control. They fight back with accusations that you are cold and non-supportive, just to validate that you are the problem and that they are innocent.
When a narcissist no longer feels they have to defend themselves from you (when you step back and let them live with their own behavior and thoughts), they are left to deal with their own feelings. Some narcissists will go into a rage. Some will look for other love interests. Some will start a smear campaign. Be prepared, flex your awareness muscles, and be safe!
Gray rock is used for several purposes, one is that you remain calm and that you do not feed into the narcissist’s fire, but gray rock is also a strategy with the objective being that the narcissist loses interest in you, and eventually, you are off the ’emotional abuse’ hook.
Take Care of You
Sadly, you may have wanted your relationship to look different than it does (or did) with a narcissist. I understand. We all understand.
Just remember, you have to take care of yourself. You own who you are, and nobody can steal that away from you.
Abuse is never right, and abuse is never okay.